A bipartisan team of Wisconsin congressmen want to limit the president’s power to unilaterally impose tariffs by claiming the nation’s security is at risk.
Their proposal is a smart and needed check on executive power, given the harm President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum have caused our state’s economy.
These duties have done more than raise the cost of construction in Wisconsin. They have triggered retaliatory tariffs on all sorts of Wisconsin products sent to Canada, Mexico and overseas. Farmers and manufacturers have been especially hard hit.
That’s why U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, and Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, last week proposed the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act, with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate.
The Trump administration is threatening to slap more tariffs on imports — this time on cars and auto parts — claiming the fees are needed to protect national security.
That’s silly. And under Gallagher and Kind’s bill, the U.S. Defense Department would have to agree that a real threat exists, something that isn’t required now.
When Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum last year, claiming national security concerns, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis refused to defend the ruse, noting that the military’s need for steel and aluminum was only 3 percent of U.S. production.
Trump’s misguided trade wars have hurt Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee, cranberry growers in central Wisconsin and dairy farmers across the state. Trump’s higher tax on aluminum has even raised the price of beer in cans.
Congress passed a law in 1962 giving presidents the power to unilaterally impose tariffs for national security reasons. Trump has abused that power, claiming, for example, that Canada is a security threat for selling the United States steel and aluminum at competitive prices.
Gallagher stressed his bill would not stop Trump, under different rules, from imposing sanctions on a country such as China for unfair trading practices. What Gallagher, Kind and others want to do is return to Congress the power to sign off on duties the president claims are needed for U.S. security.
Trump, who calls himself “Tariff Man,” could veto the bipartisan bill. But sending it to his desk would send a powerful message that Congress is an equal branch of government and won’t sit quietly while needless harm to American consumers and businesses continues.
U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wausau, wants to go in the opposite direction. He has proposed legislation giving President Trump even more power to impose tariffs unilaterally. Thankfully, that bill appears dead.
The bipartisan push by Gallagher, Kind and Johnson makes much more sense, given the damage Trump’s unilateral tariffs are inflicting here and across the nation.